Thursday, May 08, 2008


Jarrah has suddenly become interested in puzzles. She received a beautiful giant floor puzzle of "Undersea Life" for her birthday (Thanks, Karol! :)), and one day--apparently while angels were performing a cappella--she decided it was fun to sit by herself for 30 minutes at a time, putting it together.

This made me sit up and take notice, Readers. My child usually has two speeds: turbo and asleep. With this new development, I'd be reading a newspaper and suddenly realize that I hadn't heard a peep in 15 minutes. I'd stampede into the other room, expecting crayon on the walls and clothing diced into a fine mince with the kiddie scissors. Instead, she'd look up sweetly from her recumbent pose, bat her eyelashes, and inquire, "You want to help with me, Mommy?"

Clearly, we have broken through the "able to sustain self-play" wall, and I am all for it. I must confess I've never been good at the part of toddler parenting where I kneel on the floor for an hour, building block towers or eating pretend snacks. I feel myself going to a very special place inside. But puzzles aren't bad. I haven't worked on puzzles in years, and now I have a reason. And maybe it's even educational.

Speaking of which, I am clearly having issues. But am I shoulding all over Jarrah, or all over myself? When she was one, we got her one of those wooden puzzles with the pictures under the pieces, and after a few rounds of sitting on my hands while she wedged and wedged and wedged the tomato into the cucumber's home, I stuffed the thing in the toy box, telling myself she was simply too young.

Now, she understands immediately when a piece doesn't fit. But she clearly doesn't understand why, and for some reason, that drives me mad. It's funny, because her daddy is an engineer, and while I recognize that this is not really relevant, I do find myself shaking my head and thinking, "Poor girl, she's inherited her mother's sense of spatial relations." Which is to say, no sense at all. Not only did I suck at math (all kinds) but I had to change my major in college because I could not figure out how to draw something in perspective (the class was Set Design; the major was Theater.)

Jarrah does puzzles like an artist. I can ask her to find a piece with a tip of pink anemone that is literally a 1/4 inch in diameter, and BAM! she goes right to it. When I ask her "Where's the sea lion's OTHER eye?" the big picture is instantly clear to her.

But Readers, I think I might chew my knuckles off when she picks up a corner and--for the 500th time--I ask: "What kind of piece is that?" and she says, "A blue one?" I pick up another corner: "And this one?" "A white one!" No matter how many times I show her the straight edges, ask her to count them, and demonstrate how the finished puzzle always has four, I'm not getting through. No comprehension. Whatsoever.

And then I get this scary edge in my voice. It's like I'm clenching my teeth. I hear myself saying, "Jarrah. JARRAH. Jaaaah---raaah. That's an edge piece. An edge piece. An EDGE. EDGE!" It's not pretty, Readers. And when I catch myself (usually later than I'd like) I laugh (ruefully and inwardly) because what the hell am I doing? Are we training for the Russian Puzzle Olympics? Is finishing a 500 piece a requirement for kindergarten now? Will puzzle prowess determine whether she drops out of grad school ABD?

And here's the weirder thing: I really don't care about stuff like that. Some people with toddlers do alphabet drills and flash cards and pre-reading and number games and yada yada yada. I never do any of that. I sort of have this philosophy that she'll learn all that when she's good and ready and that her only job right now is making messes and climbing stuff. Maybe I'm naive. I am a first-time parent, after all.

But somehow, I can't seem to get my mind entirely around the simple fact that while I know how to do puzzles, there was a time when I didn't. And probably no one loomed over me repeating my name over and over in a strangled voice. I did puzzles, I didn't do puzzles, no one cared. Or maybe they cared if I asked them to, but the rest of the time they left me alone.

Yesterday, I got myself in a puzzle frenzy. I think I imagined that if she had a whole variety of puzzles, she'd be able to entertain herself for hours at a time. So we went out and bought three new ones. And when we got home, she did them all in a row, pretty much without help, even though it took her forever because she jammed every edge piece into the center a dozen times before calmly choosing another.

And today she didn't touch any of them. I'm sure there's a valuable lesson here, Readers. For me.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I can't tell you how many puzzles, car sets, legos, etc...I have bought for the blissful peace of 30 minutes...only to find it lasted one measly day.

Anonymous said...

Ditto over here! Isn't it maddening?This post was all SO familiar.

Sage LERVES puzzles. One thing that draws out her interest in them is to do them different ways (i.e. do all the outside pieces first! do them right side up but with their frame upside down!). Sometimes we put the puzzles away for weeks and then they're all new again and she wants to start over.

But, dammock, they need constant novelty, don't they?

Miss J

park it said...

My child (and me) are puzzle impaired - I just don't like them - and K - has no concept of BIG picture until it is completed (yes with teeth clenched) look mama it is a picture of Do*ra etc...she fails to see the trees for the forest...She is starting to read - knew her #'s and letters by 2 as well as their sounds - but poor child - takes forever on a puzzle - I let he have that joy with her NaiNai...It must be parts of the brain that develop faster than others - go figure...I am like you - good go*d child can't you see it is a straight side - ?????

Caroline said...

You make me feel so much better that I'm not alone. I can identify with so much of that. :)

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that I am not the only mom going mad over the fact that my 3-year-old doesn't understand that the other zebra eye fits in the hole and not the foot of the hippo. ahhh

Anonymous said...

What a nice memory you evoked for me.

I had a grandmother (mom's mom) who was grouchy and unpolished but loved me.

The nicest times we got to spend with one another was putting together one of her 500 piece puzzles on her glass dining room table with a mug of her special Mexican hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon and a dash of chili powder. We would start after dinner, stop to wash up for bed, then back to the puzzle in our pajamas.

I miss her. She died last year in her mid 90s.

Jennifer said...

Wait until she loses a piece and can't get the puzzle completed and has a meltdown. Ha! Those were my good times as a kindergarten teacher. :) I love the way kids can lose themselves doing a puzzle!!

The Wades said...

I've read this post three times--I just LOVE it. I've often thought, "What kind of terrible Mom goes crazy doing a puzzle with her sweet little child?" In our defense, they should get the flat side is an EDGE!

Thanks for showing me the different ways in which a child can view a puzzle. Maybe that will help me if I ever am forced to "play" puzzle again!